Freeholder blacks and coloureds, in the Bahama Islands, voted in 1832 – a full two years – before the end of slavery in 1834. They were of course, disqualified, by law, from being able to offer themselves as candidates in general elections, as this was limited to whites only. By 1834, this would change, when prominent coloureds, such as Stephen Dillet, would be allowed to enter the political system as electoral candidates.
Voting, created a new empowering dynamic, in the colony. Blacks and coloureds, realising the power of their numbers, as well as, their ability to affect the outcome of elections, especially in large districts like Nassau Town, began to literally beat the war drum.
RIOTS and Anti-Smyth Candidate Gets Two Slaps… Maybe More
In the days before the 6th January 1832, New Providence elections, crowds of negroes and coloureds descended on the street just below Government House. This apparently went on for several nights. The police magistrate saw it all unfold, hid inside his house. The crowds carried clubs and sticks. Negro men, women and children came out, even after dark. Anti-Smyth newspaper, The Bahama Argus, who hated Governor Sir James Carmichael Smyth for his abolitionist tendencies, and his stirring of negro and coloured sensibilities, wrote angrily of the events.
“For several nights past, large parties of coloured and black men have paraded the streets of this town, armed with large clubs and sticks, and making use of threatening language, evidently trying by taunts and abuse, to provoke the whites to a breach of the peace, and thereby have some pretext for a general assault: we are happy, however, to say they did not succeed.
Yesterday afternoon, the voters from the Eastwood, after partaking pretty freely of the good things prepared for them by the members elect, came into town, as we believe is customary, for the purpose of visiting at their own houses the gentleman returned to represent them – from whence, about sunset returned to their houses.
Early in the evening, an immense number of Negroes, men, women, and children, collected below the Government House, and opposite the house of John Anderson, Esq., where the voters then were, armed with sticks and stones, who behaved in the most riotous manner, and committed several breaches of the peace.
All this took place within 100 yards of the residence of the Police Magistrate, who was at home, and perfectly aware of what was doing, but would not attempt to disperse the mob, until required to do so by two gentlemen. —-The Bahama Argus, Wednesday, 11 January 1832
Negroes and Coloureds Beat Up Anti-Smyth Candidate, Conrad Duncome, Esq.
Election violence is extremely rare, in The Bahamas, even to this very day. However, in 1832, the very implication that negroes were able to assault a white person, a prominent candidate for election, and get away with it, before the end of slavery, is nothing short of incredible. Nevertheless, it happened. Conrad Duncome was the candidate for the Eastern District. Duncome was a staunch anti-Governor Smyth candidate. The Bahama Argus loved Duncome because they shared a hatred for the abolitionist leaning Governor. Duncome came to find himself in a physical altercation with negroes who were pro-Governor Smyth. Duncome seems to have gotten the worst of it.
‘After dark the streets were again crowded with black and coloured persons, who conducted themselves in the most riotous manner. We cannot, however, detail at present all that took place; but are sorry to state that several white persons were attacked and two persons, Conrad Duncome, Esq., and Mr John Sherry, severely maltreated. We cannot to strongly reprobate the conduct of Mr Charles Nesbitt, the Police Magistrate, who might, and ought to have prevented such unlawful assemblages, of Negroes; and will his conduct not appear the more reprehensible, when it is known that the whole of the outrages were committed near his own residence, and that the leading rioters all escaped? – Indeed, it appears as if the whole police constables had been kept purposely out of the way and we trust it will be the subject of an inquiry. We are glad to be able to state, that although Mr. Conrad Duncome is severely injured, his physicians are not apprehensive of any danger. Parties of the 2d W. I. Regiment, patrolled the streets, during the whole night.” —- The Bahama Argus, Wednesday, 11 January 1832
Eastern District Election 1832 – Anti-Smyth Candidates Win – Bahama Argus Newspaper Is Happy
Governor James Carmichael Smyth was angry that the House of Assembly, continued to staunchly refuse, to allow coloureds to be candidates in general elections. In late 1831, Governor Smith prorogued the House which imitated new general elections. Called the ‘Coloured Petition,’ as it was submitted by a number of freeholder coloureds, whites and blacks – many lived in fear of reprisals from whites, for even seeming to support such a ludicrous idea, as allowing coloureds to sit in the House of Assembly. In the Eastern District Election, even voting for a pro-Governor Smith candidate seemed to be enough to have one blackballed. The Bahama Argus appeared to be the informer paper, who ran the list of who voted for which candidate. Remember, there was no secret ballot. Everyone knew who the other had voted for. It was all a recipe for victimisation and intimidation.
“We understand, that there were a greater number of voters on the poll, yesterday, than were ever before polled at any Election in these Islands; and as the gentlemen elected are avowedly hostile to Sir James C. Smyth, the state of the poll may be considered as affording ample testimony of the state of popular feeling, towards His Excellency. We were happy, also, to observe that all the respectable coloured residents of the Creek settlement came forward and gave the votes to Messers Anderson and Duncome – thus proving to the country, a falsity of the charge which had been brought against them, of having signed the coloured petition.” —-The Bahama Argus, Wednesday, 11 January 1832
Negroes Vote Before The End of Slavery 1832
To be eligible to vote, first, one had be to free. Slaves and indentured servants, of any colour, were disqualified for their lack of status. Second, one had to be a freeholder. One could be free, but if you were not an owner of land, you were not eligible to be a voter. Third, and this goes without much explanation, once one was free, and a freeholder of land of a certain value, one had to be a man. Only men were allowed to vote. Fourthly, once being a free male freeholder, you had to also be a taxpayer. Once all of these were satisfied, one registered to vote. The voter would then walk into the voting room, stand in front of all those present and say loudly who they intended to cast their vote for.
Ben Ferguson, a black man, who voted for Messers. Butler, Kerr & Co.
Ben Ferguson’s name was erroneously left off the list of Town voters published on 7th January 1832 in the Bahama Argus. “Also – omitted, by mistake, is the name, the name of Ben Ferguson, a black man, who voted for Messers. Butler, Kerr & Co.”
The Bahama Argus, Wednesday, 11 January 1832
The Bahama Argus had a lot to say about the those who voted for pro-Governor Carmichael Smyth candidates Butler, Kerr, Lightbourne and Hepburn. The Argus called them the “veriest dregs of all that is low and worthless..”
“We were truly disgusted by the general character of those who voted on the side of Messers. Butler, Kerr, Lightburn and Hepburn, at yesterday’s poll – the veriest dregs of all that is low and worthless, recklessly coming forward and swearing to anything and everything required of them. We have often heard of punishment of accessories to murders, theft and treason; and we hope, that should there be any grounds for supposing collusion on the part of any candidate, or candidates, that the proper steps will be taken to punish both principles and parties. We regret, that the very late hour and which the Scrutiny is held, will deter us the chance of giving full information relative to the rejected votes, in this number, but it shall not be withheld in our next. From general opinion, we understand that upwards of 30 voters on the side of the gentleman above named will most certainly be disqualified!!!” —— The Bahama Argus, Saturday, 7th January 1832
Bahama Argus newspaper printed the names of all those who voted in the Nassau Town Election and how they voted. Many of those who voted for the pro-Governor candidate were disqualified. Many of those disqualified were black and coloured voters.
Voters in the Town Election. Four seats were available for the Nassau Town District. Each voter cast 4 votes for the four persons they wanted to represent Nassau in the House of Assembly. —- The Bahama Argus, Wednesday, 07 January 1832
FROM WINNERS BECAME LOSERS – TWO NEWSPAPERS WITH TWO DIFFERENT RESULTS FOR THE NASSAU TOWN ELECTION 1832
When the inhabitants and voters, in Nassau Town went to bed on Saturday night, 7th January 1832, after the votes had been counted, they were told by the local newspaper that, the four election winners were Robert Butler, Lewis Kerr, Walter Lightbourne, and John Hepburn. But the powerful anti-Governor Carmichael Smyth faction and the Bahama Argus, as it said would happen, disqualified twenty two voters from the poll.
Not surprisingly, those 22 voters had cast their vocal ballot for the pro-Governor Carmichael Smyth candidates. By Wednesday 11th January, 1832, the elections results had been thrown out and new results recorded. Francis Montell, John Storr, Robert Taylor and George P. Wood were declared winners for Nassau Town.
The Royal Gazette and Bahama Advertiser, Saturday 7th January 1832
The Bahama Argus, Wednesday, 11 January 1832